Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Jackie Mason, who died here Saturday at 93, was one of the last survivors of the Borscht Belt comedy circuit.
Mason, born Yacov Moshe Maza to Orthodox immigrant parents and raised mostly on the Lower East side, offered a window into the American Jewish psyche for non-Jews. For Jews, he reflected their complicated relationship with their Americanness.
Before becoming a regular in the Catskills, clubs and on TV variety shows, he earned a degree from City College and was ordained a rabbi at Yeshiva University.
In a career that waxed and waned, his biggest triumph was "The World According to Me!," a one-man Broadway comeback that opened in 1986 and ran for two years. It earned him a Tony and an Emmy, a vast new audience, and a recurring role — as Krusty the Clown's father, a rabbi — on "The Simpsons."
Not every one got the joke. His act played on ethnic and gender stereotypes that ultimately went out of favor, as he complained. Campaigning for Rudy Giuliani in 1989, he referred to David N. Dinkins, the Black mayoral candidate, with a Yiddish word considered to be a racial slur. Giuliani fired him.
Fair enough: "A comic genius and a pain in the ass. This man could get a laugh reading the weather. His rhythms and delivery were master classes in comedy. Farewell, Jackie. Farewell." — Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein
The last laugh: "The only persecution that I ever suffered from in my career was from Jews that are embarrassed that I am so Jewish," he said in one routine.
Monday, July 26, 2021
South Dakota has the smallest Jewish population in the country. But the community has temporarily grown as eight rabbinical students tour western South Dakota.
The group met with local Jews at a Rapid City coffee shop, ran into Jewish tourists at Mount Rushmore and is having one-on-one meetings with Jews who live in more rural areas.
Back in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, rabbinical student Levi Feldman can take a quick walk to the synagogue or Kosher store. There are no such stores in South Dakota, where Jews might have to drive hours to the nearest temple.
"In Crown Heights, I would say that (Judaism) sort of comes to you as your environment, it's sort of there. In South Dakota, you're a self-made Jew and your Judaism is your own experience," Feldman said.
Like other Orthodox, Hasidic Jews, Feldman has a beard, dons a kippah and wears tzitzit – or the fringes from a prayer shawl – around his waist.
Feldman is part of the Chabad movement, which is known for reaching out to Jews, no matter how observant they are. The 24-year-old and his classmates were invited to South Dakota by Mendel Alperowitz, who became South Dakota's only full-time rabbi in 2016.
Alperowitz said the tour allows isolated Jews to connect with other Jewish people. And it's helpful for the students since some have never spent time in small Jewish communities.
"It's very important for their training and hopefully it allows them to experience other parts of America and see different cultures around the country and be able to connect and learn more," Alperowitz said.
The group is spending more than a week in South Dakota before heading back to Brooklyn.
Thursday, July 22, 2021
The state's Hate Crimes Task Force has been called in to investigate an attack on a Brooklyn yeshiva earlier this month, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The governor announced Wednesday that he will direct the state squad to help investigate a woman who was caught on video smashing the windows of a Hasidic Jewish school, which sits near Flushing Avenue on the border of Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy.
The woman smashed in the windows of the Franklin Avenue school in broad daylight on July 15, according to police. The incident made headlines this week when a video of it was circulated by Williamsburg News.
"This attempt to instill fear into the Jewish community will not be tolerated," Cuomo said in a statement. "Hatred like this is abhorrent, disgusting and unacceptable."
The vandalism came just days after a Jewish man was attacked on his way to a synagogue in Flatbush, according to Cuomo.
In the last year, Brooklyn saw more than a quarter of the state's anti-Semitic incidents, which have been at historically high levels in recent years. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks the incidents, has called the borough "a hotspot for antisemitic activity."
New York as a whole is the state with the highest rate of anti-Semitic incidents in the country, according to the ADL's 2020 analysis.
"To the Jewish community, we are with you. We stand with you and we will fight with you against these horrendous displays of hate and anti-Semitism," Cuomo said Wednesday. "You are loved and love will always win in New York State."
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Three young men were indicted Tuesday in connection with anti-Semitic hate crimes back in May, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced.
The three men, 21-year-old Haider Anjam and 19-year-old Ashan Azad of Midwood, and 20-year-old Daniel Shaukat of Bensonhurst, stand accused of threatening and assaulting Jews in Borough Park on May 22, amid a wave of hate crimes perpetrated against Orthodox Jews in New York and elsewhere.
"All members of Brooklyn's diverse communities should feel free to go about their day and observe their religion without fear of being targeted," Gonzalez said in a statement. "Attacks such as those described in this indictment – including violence and threats of violence that stem from bias and bigotry – are abhorrent and will be prosecuted."
The three are facing up to four years in prison if convicted on the charges, which include assault as a hate crime, menacing as a hate crime, criminal mischief, and criminal obstruction of breathing. They were arrested back in May and were released on bonds "ranging from $4,000 to $5,000," the DA's office said.
Anjam and Shaukat have already been arraigned, while Azad will be arraigned "on a later date." All are expected back in court on Sept. 9.
Monday, July 19, 2021
An international tug-of-war has broken out over a desperately ill 2-year-old girl in England, where an American dad is fighting British doctors who want to pull the plug on her life support.
Severely brain-damaged at birth, little Alta Fixsler has been on a ventilator her entire life, requires a feeding tube and suffers from seizures. She cannot maintain a core body temperature, or even blink, at times needing her eyes taped shut.
Her doctors at Royal Manchester Children's Hospital believe Alta has "no conscious awareness," and English courts have backed the medical experts' decision to let Alta die.
But Alta's father, Abraham Fixsler, who attended yeshiva in Brooklyn as a youth, continues to fight for her life.
"There is no reason to kill my daughter like this," he insisted to The Post.
Thursday, July 15, 2021
Last month, Pixar released "Luca," the animated tale of a sea monster who becomes a boy on dry land. The protagonist must come to terms with the part of himself that makes him different, even reviled. And of course, by the end, Luca learns to love himself, bringing most of the townspeople along with him.
With this theme of an outsider's journey to self-acceptance, "Luca" conjures up memories of so many movies we've seen before (think "Shrek," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Wonder").
"Luca" fits in perfectly with the zeitgeist. Viewers are reminded that they, too, should work to love themselves, especially their parts that don't conform to societal expectations.
But there is another genre of banal narratives that bucks the "Luca" trend. It's the story of a character so freakish, from a place so abominable, that an ending of affirmation or reconciliation is not possible. The only choice for this misfit is to escape her world of origin as the audience cheers her on.
This reviled place is known as Orthodox Judaism, and its captives have no possibility of learning to love and find meaning in what makes them different. According to Hollywood, their only chance to find happiness and fulfillment depends on escape.
The run of such TV shows and movies in recent years includes global hits such as the documentary "One of Us" and the scripted series "Unorthodox." The latest is the Netflix reality show "My Unorthodox Life." It tells the story of Talia Hendler, who walked out on her family right after her oldest daughter married seven years ago. Hendler reinvents herself as secular Julia Haart, fashion designer and CEO of the Elite World Group, the modeling and talent agency chaired by her second husband. Haart eats shellfish, dresses provocatively, urges her somewhat religious son to talk to girls and encourages her daughter to wear pants (even though it's a topic the daughter and her husband are still discussing).
Julia's assistant asks her if there are rules about sex in Orthodoxy, and she quips "Rules about sex? There are rules about which shoe to put on first." Silly Orthodox Jews and all of their rules.
We also hear how Orthodox women are second-class citizens and baby-making machines, that secular education is verboten, and that girls can't play sports or ride bikes. While these ideas may be present in the most dysfunctional homes and the most extreme haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, communities, the show does not offer the nuance to show the range of behavior within Orthodoxy — including Atlanta, Georgia, and Monsey, New York, two communities to which Haart apparently once belonged. The viewer is simply left disgusted.
Instead of this one-sided — and, as I'll suggest, inflammatory — scenario, I'd like to propose instead that Hollywood consider the "Luca" approach to ex-haredi storytelling. What would that look like?
Perhaps a wayward haredi Jew, fleeing abuse and a lack of secure attachment — a common experience among people leaving haredi Orthodoxy — seeks out coreligionists who have built systems to prevent abuse and hold abusers accountable.
The protagonist would then spend Shabbat in the homes of these families, where he would be graciously welcomed and unconditionally loved. He'd get to witness what a healthy home looks like when it comes to marriage, parent-child interactions and Judaism.
The character would then reengage with Jewish texts, but this time he'd be encouraged to ask questions, his teachers giving over a Torah of kindness and ethics, affording it the nuance and complexity it deserves. This would allow him to revisit Jewish rituals and observances, approaching them with the goal of finding meaning and joy. The protagonist would then open himself up to the possibility of discovering a loving and compassionate God.
Stories like this would be possible to tell because these are the stories of so many members of our organization. The Makom branch of Jew in the City caters to anyone raised haredi, though most of our members come from the Hasidic world. Our tagline is "From Darkness To Light" because we help our members separate their negative Jewish experiences from Judaism itself. Some members become more Modern Orthodox. Others simply find healthy people in their haredi community and relearn nuanced approaches to Judaism.
Their stories are similar to that of a woman I'll call Sorah, who is no longer Hasidic but now lives a Modern Orthodox life. After healing, Sorah has been able to open herself up to the fact that there are healthy Hasidic Jews out there that she never knew about. She shared a profound insight with me: Many of the Jews she knows who left Hasidism behind healed in many ways, but she noticed that something was still lacking in their recovery. It was in the act of revisiting Jewish rituals and texts, and reconnecting with the community and eventually God, that Sorah came to see that there were beautiful pieces of her heritage.
This led to a sense of self-love that has healed her holistically. Why? Because just as there is no running from being a sea monster or an ogre, Sorah explains that a Jew can never stop being a Jew. So her choice is either to despise where she comes from and what she is made of, or to return to the source of her hurt and figure out a way to reclaim those parts that are meaningful — even maybe discovering a different place within the Jewish community that feels like home.
I don't judge or resent anyone who runs. It is a logical reaction to dysfunction, the main reason most of our members find themselves displaced. At the same time there is a compelling reason not to. When our members learn to separate dysfunction from Judaism, they are able to attain a self-love that changes them in foundational ways.
The Jewish community and the world deserve to have these stories told, not just because it would cause tremendous healing or other marginalized groups get this treatment. According to the FBI, 63% of all reported religion-based hate crimes in 2019 were directed at Jews, despite Jews only making up less than 2% of the U.S. population. When our community is shown again and again as only being worthy of escape, that others us and emboldens our enemies.
It's time that Hollywood take note.
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
As an Orthodox Jew, I'm always learning something new about myself thanks to the media. I'm a fundamentalist who is insular, backwards, stuck in the past and, of course, because I am a woman, I am oppressed. I am so oppressed I don't even know I'm being oppressed. I can't hear all the horrible things these terrible male Orthodox rabbis are saying to me beneath my head covering.
I'll have another opportunity to educate myself when "My Unorthodox Life" premieres on Netflix this month. This show is about a 40-something woman, Julia Haart, who lived in an Orthodox community and decided to stop being religious. As we say in our community, she "went off the derech," or "went off the path." Now, she is a successful CEO who is the star of a new Kardashian-esque reality show. In the trailer, she says, "It takes time to deprogram yourself."
Media outlets are reporting that the show "takes a strong stance against fundamentalism" and they're praising her for "escaping" the grasp of her ultra-Orthodox community in Monsey, New York.
This is a story we've heard over and over again. A person grows up in an Orthodox community, they claim the community treats them so badly that they have to leave, and then they write a tell-all memoir that bashes everyone they used to know. If they're lucky, they'll get to appear in a documentary or get a show on Netflix. Usually, the word "unorthodox" is involved.
If there is one thing I want readers to take away from this article, it's this: Stop using the word "unorthodox" when you go off the derech. Pick a new word. We get it!
In all seriousness, most of these stories involve individuals that either have some type of mental illness, were abused by their families, had spouses who didn't understand them, etc. Somehow, though, the Orthodox lifestyle and/or community are to blame for all their troubles. And when they bring up shocking stories about their communities, nobody bothers to look into them to see if they are true. Everything is taken as truth, when much of it has actually been debunked. The Orthodox perspective is almost never taken into account.
These salacious stories are actively making people hate Jews. And Orthodox Jews usually don't speak up because they are too busy living their lives and not paying attention to what the media has to say. If they do take a stance, mainstream publications typically won't publish their responses. The media doesn't want to hear it. And so we just get pummeled over and over again.
Of course, there are people who have legitimate grievances with their Orthodox community and they feel the need to be true to themselves and leave. I am not talking about those people. As a community we are, like every other community, far from perfect; we are comprised of flawed human beings. Still, I can't help but notice what seems to be a distressing media obsession with us.
So who am I to say all this? Well, I had the typical secular American life growing up. I wasn't born a Jew; my background is English, Irish, Scottish and German. After meeting my Jewish husband, I learned about Judaism, and specifically Orthodox Judaism. We went to beautiful Friday night dinners at our local Chabad House, which is run by Lubavitch Jews, a sect of Hasidim that mostly live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I thought the long-bearded rabbi in a black hat was going to dislike me because I have blonde hair and blue eyes and I was clearly not born Jewish. I was wrong. He and his family welcomed me in and made me feel like a part of the community right away.
I had never experienced such warmth. Once I began studying the Torah and going to an Orthodox synagogue, I began a five-year conversion journey. At the end of it, I converted through an Orthodox beit din (a Jewish court of law consisting of three rabbis) and today, I observe Shabbat, keep kosher, pray every day, cover my hair, and send my child to an Orthodox school.
What astounds me is the difference between what the media reports and what I've experienced in my life. Orthodox Jews are some of the friendliest people I've met. And, yes, even the "ultra-Orthodox" ones are nice. My husband and I used to live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and buy our food at the Satmar Hasidic grocery stores, and they were lovely, too. One time we were in a rush to shop for food before Shabbat and a Hasidic man offered us a ride to the store. Because of him, we made it there in time. I couldn't believe he would let random strangers into his car, especially when we weren't Hasidic. But he did.
When I gave birth to our daughter, our Orthodox community here in Los Angeles organized a meal train for us. We ate a homemade dinner every night for a month. Sometimes, we got food from people who didn't even know us. They simply heard that someone had a baby and they wanted to help out.
I could provide countless examples of how wonderful Orthodox Jews are, but when it comes to Netflix, the media and the publishing houses, that's not what sells.
When "My Unorthodox Life" comes out, I anticipate it'll get a lot of praise. Reviewers will say the star of it is bold and brave, and they will continue to bash Orthodox Jews.
While it may be easier to sit back and angrily read these headlines or try to ignore them, I encourage my fellow Orthodox Jews to push back against these harmful, degrading stereotypes. They are hurting us more than we think. Yes, ultimately, God is there for us, and he will protect us and sort everything out in the end. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't let our voices be heard.
It's time to stop hiding and to show the world who we really are. No one else is going to; that's for sure.
Monday, July 12, 2021
A Hasidic man was attacked with a piece of broken furniture and subjected to antisemitic insults in an apparently racially motivated assault in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford–Stuyvesant last Monday.
According to the New York Police Department, which tweeted a video of the incident on Friday, the victim, a "25-year-old male wearing traditional Jewish garb," was accosted by an unknown assailant "who made anti-Jewish statements and assaulted" him in broad daylight and in front of at least one witness.
The video showed the suspect smashing a drawer from a dresser left on the curb against a building's stoop and using one of the shattered pieces to attack the victim.
The New York Daily News reported that the suspect called the victim a "f***ing Jew" and demanded to know why he was "coming into my neighborhood."
Democratic Mayoral candidate Eric Adams, who is running to replace outgoing Democratic Mayor Bill De Blasio, called on anyone with information about the assault to contact the NYPD, adding that New York City "must do more to prevent these violent, antisemitic attacks against our Jewish neighbors."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted that he was "disgusted" to learn of another attack against the Jewish community and said that he had directed the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force "to offer assistance in the investigation."
"This is antisemitism, plain and simple. It's abhorrent and unacceptable, and these hateful acts have absolutely no place in New York," he declared. "To the Jewish community of New York, we are with you. We will fight to ensure you can walk safely down the streets of our state anytime, anywhere. Hate will never win here."
This is the second time in recent months that Cuomo has publicly tasked state police to work on an antisemitism related issue. In late May, he directed the law enforcement agency to reinforce security at Jewish institutions in the New York City area following a spate of violent incidents targeting Jewish residents coinciding with the recent military confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Thursday, July 08, 2021
City University Of New York: Brooklyn College: Brooklyn College Library To Create Hasidism In America Film Archive
The Brooklyn College Library Archives and Special Collections has received a $150,000 grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) to create a new film archive on Hasidic Jewish culture in the United States.
This 12-month project will launch in fall 2021 and entails digitizing and cataloging 62 hours of film footage shot for the 1997 award-winning documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The footage can be characterized as audiovisual field notes on the religious practices, cultural mores, family life, intercommunal relations, and the Americanization process of these distinctive immigrant lives from 1936 to 1996. It includes interviews with scholars, community members, and neighbors from the Brooklyn neighborhoods where the majority of America's Hasidim live.
A Life Apart: Hasidism in America
"This is another important collection that we are proud to feature in Brooklyn College's archives," said Colleen Bradley-Sanders, associate professor and Brooklyn College archivist. "Our hope is that the material can serve as a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in this important history, no matter their faith or religious background."
This project, which received support from the CUNY Research Foundation, complements another important collection in the college's Archives and Special Collections. In summer 2019, the archives unveiled the YWCA of Brooklyn Collection, made possible by a two-year processing grant from the NHPRC. It contains materials from the organization from its opening in 1888 to 2010, when the collection was transferred to Brooklyn College. Other collections include Brooklyniana, The Historic Manuscript Collection, The Rare Book Collection, The Robert L. Hess Collection on Ethiopia & the Horn of Africa, and the Stuart Schaar Collection on the Middle East and North Africa.
E-mail the Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections to learn more. Digitized materials are available through the college's digital assets platform once the archive goes live.
Wednesday, July 07, 2021
After a yearlong legal battle, French Jewish student groups cheered a Tuesday court ruling that ordered Twitter to hand over all of its documents regarding efforts to fight hate speech on the platform.
"Justice applies here, on Twitter, everywhere and anywhere," commented Noémie Madar, president of the UEJF French Jewish student association, which had joined five other anti-discrimination groups in taking the social media company to court.
"How many moderators are there? How are they trained? How many reports from users that are considered objectively discriminatory does Twitter forward to the courts?" Madar said, outlining questions to which the company must provide hard answers.
"In the face of hatred, responsibility is twofold," Madar said. "That of the authors, those who threaten, insult and abuse. And that of the [large tech companies] who often make hate their business and who still think that their law is superior to the French legal standard."
Twitter was given two months to provide the detailed information, and a company spokesperson told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday that it was reviewing the decision.
"Our absolute priority is to assure the security of people using our platform," the company said. "We commit to building a safer internet, to combatting online hate and to improving the serenity of public discourse."
Along with the UEJF, the original May 2020 legal complaint was filed by the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (Licra), SOS Racisme, SOS Homophobie, J'accuse, and MRAP. It charged Twitter with a "long and persistent" failure to properly moderate online content, the AFP said.
The court Tuesday found that there was evidence Twitter had indeed neglected to remove antisemitic, racist, and and homophobic content in a timely manner.
Alain Jakubowicz, an honorary president Licra, called the ruling a "splendid victory, obtained with great difficulty, which honors the tireless work of universalist anti-racist associations."
Tuesday, July 06, 2021
A Jewish man documented himself encountering antisemitic rhetoric twice in one hour while using London's public transportation system, refocusing British media attention to the issue.
In one incident aboard a bus, a passenger threatened to " shank" the Jewish man, who is an Orthodox Jew, and "slit his throat for Palestine." The man also called the alleged victim "f***ing scumbag" and told him he'd "f***ing beat the s*** out of you."
An hour later, the same Jewish man filmed himself being mocked by young men while exiting a subway station. One of the men shouted: "F***ing hate the Jews."
The Daily Mail tabloid reported on the incidents, which happened Saturday night
Marie van der Zyl , the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, in a statement called the rhetoric "disgusting racist threats and abuse" and added that those responsible "should be must be tracked down and prosecuted."
Community Security Trust, British Jewry's security unit, documented 460 incidents from May 8 to June 7, the highest monthly total since records began in 1984, with 316 happening offline and 144 online. Israel's latest violent conflict with Hamas militants in Gaza began on May 9.
Friday, July 02, 2021
Community members are set to rally around a rabbi who is recovering at a hospital after being stabbed several times outside of a Hasidic center in Brighton on Thursday.
Rabbi Shlomo Noginski is said to be in stable condition at Boston Medical Center following the stabbing in the area of the Shaloh House on Chestnut Hill Avenue around 1:15 p.m.
People are set to gather on the Brighton Common at 10 a.m. Friday to show their support for Noginski, a father of 12.
Rabbi Dan Rodkin, who is the director of the Shaloh House, described the moments leading up to the attack of Noginski.
"What happened, he was sitting here at the steps and talking on the phone when the attacker came to him, and asked him to open the car," he recalled.
Rodkin said the alleged assailant, later identified by police as Khaled Awad, 24, of Brighton, took out a gun and tried to force Noginski into his own car. Fearing he might be abducted, the rabbi ran to the park across the street.
"Attacker tried to hit him dozens of times. Rabbi Shlomo was able to wrestle with him and to defend himself," Rodkin said. "He had about eight stabs in the arm and shoulder."
Paramedics responding to the scene rushed Noginski to the hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
Officers tracked down Awad after the attack and placed him under arrest, police added.
He is expected to be arraigned in Brighton District Court on charges of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and assault and battery on a police officer.
Investigators say they did find a gun and a knife.
The Suffolk County District Attorney's Office released a statement that read, "We are actively investigating and intend to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community tomorrow morning to denounce this attack."
A summer program for elementary student was happening inside the center at the time of the attack but no children were hurt.
The Jewish community says they are shocked but that they are standing together for Noginski.
"We can share light and dispel a tremendous amount of darkness," Shaloh House Rabbi Ilan Meyers said. "We seek to continue to convey that message, especially in a situation of darkness such as this, that for all those out there, to go ahead and do acts of kindness, call up someone you haven't spoken to for a while, just be kind to your neighbor. And for the Jewish folk out there, be proud that you are a Jew."
AJC New England Regional Director Rob Leikind issued a statement adding, "This terrible crime underscores the sense of vulnerability that many in the Jewish community feel today. Anti-Jewish activism has become a viral menace. We are grateful to the Boston Police Department for apprehending the alleged perpetrator of this crime. Whether or not it is determined to have been a hate crime, it is a clear reminder of the mounting peril many of us feel today."
The motive of the attack remains under investigation.
Thursday, July 01, 2021
A Boston-area Chabad rabbi was in stable condition after being stabbed several times outside a Jewish synagogue and day school, with police still investigating into a possible motive.
Shlomo Noginski, a rabbi and teacher at Shaloh House in Brighton, Massachusetts, was repeatedly stabbed outside the institution Thursday afternoon, according to local NBC10 news, and was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.
The attacker was reportedly also carrying a firearm, according to a Chabad.org report, which said that Noginski was sitting on the Shaloh House front steps when the assailant drew a gun on him and attempted to force Noginski into his own car. When the victim fled to a nearby park, the assailant stabbed him several times, before ultimately fleeing. He was soon after apprehended.
"We are aware that a stabbing occurred outside of the Hasidic Center in Brighton and that one person has been taken into custody," said the Anti-Defamation League of New England on Twitter. "An active @bostonpolice investigation into what happened including possible motivation is underway."